China and "Orientalism"

David Martínez Robles

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online June 2015 | | DOI:
China and "Orientalism"

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Very few books have left a more lasting impression on scholars involved with non Euro-American cultures than Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), translated in 1999 both as Dongfangxue 東方學 in Hong Kong (published by Sanlian shudian三聯書店) and Dongfang zhuyi 東方主義 in Taiwan (by Lidu 立緒) in the same year. Orientalism is defined by Said as a style of thought that establishes an epistemological and ontological distinction between the West and the Orient, an essentialist and reductionist discourse which is constructed by imperial societies while at the same time nourishing imperial enterprise. From his point of view Orientalist scholarship is a constituent of the cultural dimension of that enterprise. Following Michel Foucault, for Said, knowledge cannot be independent from power, and therefore intellectuals cannot avoid the ideological and political dimension of their work. Actually, one of Said’s definitions of Orientalism points to scholarship: Orientalism is what Orientalist scholars do. Nevertheless, despite the polemical nature of this kind of claim, in the first years after the publication of his book, Said’s ideas aroused very few debates in the China area. China scholars presumed that Orientalism had not affected the China field of study and consequently it was irrelevant for the development of their research. Sinology had allegedly followed a very different path from that of “Oriental” studies and the biased discourse of Orientalism had nothing to do with sinologists. Indeed, in Orientalism Said himself only mentioned China in passing. Only after a decade or so, at the end of the 1980s, did China scholars begin to be more aware of the need to tackle the discursive reflections posed by Said and postcolonial theory in their research. As a consequence of this late development, the number of publications concerned with China and the question of Orientalism is still relatively low. Even so, the influence of Saidian reflections on China scholars has increased in recent years and is apparent in a few disciplines, such as literary or visual culture studies, while other academic fields have been much more reluctant to include it.

Article.  11478 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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